It’s a funny thing generally.
Even more so when you work in PR. And especially when you manage public social and digital platforms for brands.
There can often be a tumbleweed effect at times of General Elections like this, and we can’t even blame Purdah.
Why? Because it’s muddy waters to say the least.
The fact is that every brand and company will have their own personal beliefs, be they religious or political, but to even hint at them in any fashion other than comedic could, at best, alienate some potential customers, at worst… well, it could ruin your business.
Hence the fear of getting political.
One brand I have watched in earnest as they blatantly flaunt the fear in other brands’ faces is the Irish wing of global ice-cream brand - Ben & Jerry’s.
In a few week’s time, on Friday 22nd May 2015, Ireland faces a public referendum - the people will vote on an amendment to the Constitution of Marriage Bill. Basically, the people could give equal rights to marriages for those of the same sex.
For most liberal, modern, forward-thinking, sympathetic folk, the issue is a no-brainer. But it’s still a divisive subject in many parts of even the most progressive of countries.
While some people believe brands need to be relatable to be likeable and others firmly protesting that brands have no place influencing morale codes, how does a brand like Ben & Jerry’s not only justify, but benefit from, such a strong campaign endorsement?
Well they’re not entirely blazing a trail-untrodden for a start. Big brands have been political before.
Just last year, Nike, eBay, and others, publicly supported same-sex marriage in briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
At least on this issue, unlike Facebook’s support of immigration reform, there isn’t necessarily a clear-cut cynical explanation for the political stance (in Facebook’s case, enabling them to hire talent from overseas).
A study released in 2014 stated to brands that the public wanted them to get MORE political. That makes sense when you understand the psychology behind Corporate Social Responsibility and Consumer Behaviour; both inextricably linked in favour of a company. But the risks can still outweigh the benefits.
The reason it seems to work for Ben & Jerry’s is that they have followed the psychology of all the research available:
- They have supported an issue rather than an individual party or political representative.
- They have not only supported, but taken action and encouraged others to take action on the issue, in a bid to improve the communities they are working in (as some would see it).
- The issue is not obviously tied to their core business - they sell ice cream, not marriage licences - however, “social justice” has been a key issue for them since their inception in 1973 and they have a history of advocating for equal rights, making their campaign the very essence of authenticity.
- The campaign has been long, thought-out and contains an array of elements from a specific website, to dedicated product such as EngageMint Party flavour, and running the Yestival festivals across Ireland. This was not concocted to piggyback a news agenda overnight (and us PR’s aren’t adverse to that!) but rather this is a sustained, dedicated and well-researched campaign.
- It’s not their only issue. They’re concurrently running a Climate Change campaign. While this could seem confusing, it actually shows they have a wider view encompassing many societal issues, which is expected of a global brand.
- Running through it all is their very particular, easily-identifiable brand of humour, puns and graphic design, giving them immediate ownership of their messages, however briefly seen, thanks to the brand recognition they have built.
What do we learn from the Kings of Ice Cream?
If you’re going to have beliefs, by all means go the whole hog. You’ll find out very quickly if you’ve got it right or not. You’ll never please everyone. And most people will guess your stance, politically at least, the bigger you are and the more vocal you become. But only do all of this if campaigning and activism is, like Ben & Jerry’s, a part of who you are as a brand. If it is an important element that has always existed in your business interactions. If you’re prepared to be in it for the long-haul.
Otherwise, I’d keep your head down, wait for the tumbleweeds to pass and get back to business as usual tomorrow!